/ 9 November 2021

Vavi, NUM add to calls for De Ruyter and company to leave Eskom

Safrica Politics Labour May1 Union
Zwelinzima Vavi, the secretary-general of the South African Federation of Trade Unions. (Photo credit should read JOHN WESSELS/AFP via Getty Images)

Zwelinzima Vavi, the secretary-general of the South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu), has echoed calls by the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the Black Business Council for Eskom chief executive Andre de Ruyter’s dismissal amid renewed stage four load-shedding.

Vavi on Tuesday veered onto the subject of load-shedding during a media briefing on the upcoming medium-term budget policy statement this week, to say that De Ruyter should be fired along with the Eskom board.

“They have now failed beyond any reasonable doubt. They are useless. They have proven to every South African that there is no solution that will ever come from their direction, and South Africa is suffering. South Africa is in darkness,” he said.

“As I am speaking to you, I am load-shedded, sitting next to the window so that you can at least see my dark face … no economy can survive this.”

Vavi said thousands, “if not millions”, of jobs would be lost and thousands of firms forced to close because of the electricity crisis.

“Students who are in the middle of exams cannot study, have no access to the internet. It is a total mess, criminals are taking full advantage of the current crisis unfolding because of this institution called Eskom.”

The NUM demanded that the entire Eskom executive and board step down, and the government declare a national crisis to deal with rolling blackouts which have lately escalated to stage four – involving taking 4 000 megawatts of capacity off the grid – from the less severe stage two.

“The leadership of De Ruyter has sold South Africans a dead cat,” the union said.

“They promised that they will resolve the problem of load-shedding in 18 months. They dismally failed to meet their set target. All we need is the leadership that will keep the lights burning.”

Acting secretary-general William Mabapa also stressed that the power crisis was causing job losses and business closures, adding: “All this is happening while the economy is still trying to recover from the Covid-19 impact.”

He said Eskom’s turnaround strategy was not tailored to solve load-shedding but instead touted unbundling as the main solution for the power utility’s woes.

“A turnaround strategy is supposed to have short-term, medium-term and long-term solutions. The strategy presented by De Ruyter focused on unbundling Eskom and disposing of some of its assets. Unbundling is presented as a panacea for all Eskom problems,” said Mabapa. He added that De Ruyter was hostile to trade unions, accusing him of having unilaterally changed labour conditions at the company.

“The executive leadership of De Rutyer and the board must do South Africa a favour and resign from their positions or the government must intervene and release this incompetent and useless leadership,” the labour leader said.

“We call on the government to set up a team of competent South Africans to run Eskom while waiting for the appointment of a new board and executives.”

On Monday, the Black Business Council said it had been “overly optimistic” when De Ruyter was appointed two years ago and now believed that the whole Eskom executive should be “let go as there appears to be no prospect in sight for any improvement of this serious situation”.

Those in charge of the parastatal were failing the country and at this rate the post Covid-19 recovery plan would remain a pipe dream and further sovereign ratings downgrades would follow, chief executive Kganki Matabane warned.

He said after 13 years of load-shedding “there is no light at the end of the tunnel” and it has become disingenuous to continue to lay all the blame for the crisis at Eskom on state capture.

“The inability to stabilise Eskom will only lead to the [credit rating of the] country being downgraded and resulting in the increase in the already world record-breaking unemployment rate, further economic contraction and scaring [away] of international investors.”

The Black Business Council has called for an urgent meeting with President Cyril Ramaphosa and Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan, under whose portfolio the state-owned Eskom falls.